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Bagan

Written on: Thursday March 20th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

And I thought I was getting used to these bus journeys, that I could take whatever duration they threw at me, whatever state of uncomfortableness. How wrong I was proved at 5:30am. I?m sure my tolerance level is proportionate to the hour of the day, my tolerance rising largely as the day unfolds. The day had not unfolded long enough when I stepped on to a bus that would torment me for the next 13 hours.

 

To start with, as you will already know if you?ve read the other extracts, it is cold up in the mountains of Southern Shan State when the sun is out of sight. I knew this, but thought I?d ride it out for a few hours until the sun came up, even though I knew the air-con would be unrelentless on the bus. It wasn?t the air-con that was the main problem though, although it certainly added to my woe. I stepped on to the bus at 5:21am and a voice chanted, in fact I think the voice must have been reading from some Buddhist scripture, some sort of early morning prayer. At an audible level I wouldn?t have minded, but the speaker was directly above my head and was being thrown out at a level that would have made the hardest trained SAS soldier cave. There was no leg room on my seat, I was cold and I was ready to murder. This incessant monotonic chanting seriously had me ready to rise up from my seat and garrote every man, woman and child on that bus, starting with the ticket-man, who I so very politely asked if he would first, please turn it down and then after being ignored, if he would immediately turn it off. He waved at me saying ?Yes, yes? At 6:21am it stopped. A wave of warmth flashed over me warming and penetrating my soul deep within. I don?t exaggerate that I was almost physically sick from the CD playing overhead, but my nauseasness dissipated immediately. At 6:22am the second CD began. My body tensed, veins began to bulge in my neck, and the other bus riders who didn?t seem affected by this most inhumane ear torturing had most definitely noticed my discomfit. I sat there rigidly, at first praying to Buddha (as I was in a country of his religion), then when that didn?t work I prayed to Christ, Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Mohammed, Allah, Confucius, Loa Tzu, Jehovah, and God himself to make this bus crash. It didn?t have to be a fatal crash, just a blown-out tire or something, although towards the end I would have appreciated the bus going off the side of the cliff.

 

7:22am ? Salvation

 

My prayers, you must understand weren?t answered, it was just that the chanting stopped. Stopped for good I?m so pleased to say. I?ve never in my life experienced such an intense battering of my soul as those two hours. If anything my experience became worse in its level of comfortability, as after this the bus began to fill up, the sun had risen and it got hot, stiflingly hot. However I rode the next eleven hours completely at ease with the world, even though at one stage our bus which had a capacity of 36 people had over 60 crammed on board.

 

Bagan is Temple City. If you wanted a temple this is where you?d come to buy one. It has over 4,000 temples littering its plains, which it must be said make quite a sight standing atop of one of the ones that the public are still allowed to climb. I hired a bike the first day and visited many of them, played some more volleyball with some of the locals and then the next day headed the short distance east to Mt Popa. Mt Popa is an extinct volcano which the Burmese decided would make a great sight with another paya on top of it. And they were right, it does, especially from the bottom it makes quite a postcard. From the top though, it is similar to many other of the payas, complete with gold covered zedi and numerous half-filled donation boxes. It is these things that has made me shun my back on organised religion of any denomination. Here is a country, geographical the largest in South East Asia, one that has an extremely large number of people facing poverty every day. These people though, are still told that if they come to the paya and donate some of their hard-earned money to the paya they will be rewarded in their next life. Maybe so, I can?t answer what happens in the next life, this is what faith is about, and I have my faith, it is just very different to this one. Here are temples lavished in gold leaf, with sparkling diamonds glittering from the top of the stupas, donation boxes filled with 1000 khat notes, enough solid gold Buddha icons to give one each to every family in Burma and let them have some sort of livelihood, instead of it all sitting there behind a glass case to be bowed to. Meanwhile the top government officials sit in their cushioned leather seats, puffing on a cigar, sipping on expensive whisky, safe in the knowledge that their children have been flown off to Singapore again this last Monday to be educated, before they?ll be flown back in on Friday evening; and knowing that these wonderful, hospitable, honourable, faithful people of this country will continue to put their money in the collection boxes, will continue to live an oppressed life because in their reincarnation they are promised a much better one.

 

I visited Mt. Popa with two Dutch guys, Peter and Christian, two guys with a great sense of humour, who were both as baffled and astounded as me as to the Burmese family who chose to litter us with their children and then take photos. Here was the Westerner at the mercy of the monk with a camera. How did we like having it poked in our faces. I actually quite enjoyed it, but then I welcome the limelight and would be more than happy as a famous rock-star or Hollywood movie heartthrob. We live and dream.